Evolution Never Stops


In our last episode, Evolution, we learned about the evolutionary changes in the Anderson family organism.  Evolution is not supposed to happen in the lifetime of a single generation but something was mutating. We saw the family sell their house (more quickly than anticipated), load all the earthly possessions they wanted to keep (too many) on to a van, leave their car with a transport company and fly to Tennessee to spend Thanksgiving with Jan’s sister and mother (whose health was failing at 96), before flying on, across the country, to their new ecological niche on Whidbey Island north of Seattle in that state named for a president who never saw it.

Well, evolution is never predictable and in this episode, as we rejoin the Andersons, we learn that the story has evolved…

We flew to Washington just after Thanksgiving, met and unloaded the van (the van arrived late, the crew had not planned for the location and after renting a UHaul and shuttling back and forth from some unknown location where the van was parked to our gravel lane and driveway, finally finished about three hours after dark – Terry unpacked his old photofloods, changed the bulbs and clipped them to various objects to light the driveway so they could finish).  Then after only one week and unpacking less than one third of the boxes we learned that Jan’s mother was worse and so we flew back to Tennessee.  Jan’s mother passed away a few days before Christmas. But we stayed on to share Christmas with the collected family.

In another mutation in the path of evolution, Terry decided to fly back from Tennessee to NJ, pick up the car that had still not shipped, drive back to Tennessee and then drive to Washington. Like any intelligent organism facing an ordeal, we first increased our fat storage levels by eating a large Christmas dinner with Jan’s extended family before beginning the cross-country road trip.  The plan was to stay south to avoid winter weather (hey, we grew up in Iowa and Nebraska and knew what might be up there) and to check off a couple of states left on our Bucket List (Alabama and Mississippi, and for Jan Arkansas only two states left on our list).  We had no idea that Texas could be so wide down there (a day and a half), but found the fresh vegetables in the markets in El Paso to be amazing (who knew that medium sweet potatoes could be as big as footballs or that that many varieties of chili pepper had evolved).  We crossed New Mexico and Arizona further south than we had previously been but then turned north for the Grand Canyon (which Terry had never seen).  After descending into the smog of California’s Central Valley, we didn’t see the sky again until Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  Terry came down with a nasty virus and needed decongesting and so we stopped a few hours short of our goal and spent New Year’s Eve in a motel in Vancouver, WA watching the ball descend on TV wearing party hats made of folded newspaper and finally re-reached our niche on New Year’s Day. 

January was mostly consumed by unpacking boxes and finding that there was too much stuff to fit into the family cave.  After another round of down-sizing, the local thrift store got loaded up for the new year with our donations.  But we did take a break to drive down to Florence on the Oregon coast for the Winter Folk Festival (Terry had been reading about it for years and planning to attend as soon as we got nearer).  In fact the family in our new west coastal niche have evolved into festival-folk: Oregon Winter Folk Festival, Whidbey Island Highland Games, Coupeville Water Festival (Native American arts and canoe race), Whidbey Race Week, Anacortes Arts Festival, Anacortes’ Unknown Music Festival, Oak Harbor Music Festival, Oregon Shakespeare Festival (with our daughter and son-ion-law), Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, Whidbey Lavender Festival, Coupeville Mussel Festival, Seattle’s Folk Art Festival, Whidbey Island Kite Festival, Northwest Django Fest and others that even we have forgotten about.  Then there are the plays and concerts: in addition to the Shakespeare Festival, we saw plays in Seattle and at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts (WICA – no not the pagan religion) and heard concerts of chamber music, orchestral music, jazz, blue grass, gypsy jazz, folk, Celtic, and more all over the island and in Seattle. There has been much to keep us entertained all year. There was only time for half a dozen bike rides and kayak paddles.

After years of neglect, landscaping the area around the family shelter occupied a lot of the year, too much for Terry’s taste.  He preferred the more traditional male roll, hunting – well with his Nikon telephoto “gun”, getting pictures of birds, tulips, bugs, beaches, mountains, rainbows, eclipses, and anything else that came into range.  Family trips to Mt Baker, Mt Rainier, all over the Skagit Valley, and on Ferries to San Juan Island gave additional opportunities for photo hunting.    Some “hunting” could even be done from the cave’s deck which had a great view of the navigation tower a half mile into the bay, where (for the third time) we watched (and photographed) an osprey pair raise two young, and which was taken over by two eagles after the osprey migrate to Mexico on Autumn Equinox.  Numerous bald eagles (mature and juvenile), red-tailed hawks, and possibly a Peregrine Falcon (for which the cave’s lane is named) soared over and roosted in trees near enough to the family shelter to be hunted from the deck and of course Great Blue Herons by the score, sometimes over a hundred.  And another hunt involved a climb of Mt Pilchuck with Katherine as well as shorter hikes on Mt Rainier in August where we stayed in a rental abode with friends to see the wild flowers (just blooming that late in that ecological niche) and the Perseid Meteor shower (supposed to be great from that height but too cloudy, didn’t see a one).

Other trips included one in September to Iowa to an academy reunion for Jan and an interment service for the ashes of Jan’s parents, who wanted to be in the family plot near the country church They (and their parents) attended most of our lives (and where Jan and Terry were married), and another trip planned for this Christmas when we are taking our daughter and her husband to Rome for ten days.

But not only the area around our cave but the interior also needed attention.  It was only 25 years old, but certain stalactites and stalagmites needed an upgrade.  So the entire outside of the cave got painted (and that is not easy), the kitchen got a new counter top, sink and range (induction burners which are great but required replacing half our cookware), all three decks got all new clear cedar flooring,   Even the lane approaching our abode got re-graded and re-graveled (we didn’t want our transport to get buried in the mud as the delivering UHaul nearly did).

That car that so nobly served its duty on the cross-country road trip (after commuting service for over 100,000 mi in 6 years) has evolved into a new Honda Civic with mutated features, like leather heated seats (Jan thinks we still have winter here), navigation system, backup and blind spot cameras and other things the Andersons have not even discovered yet.

We enjoyed a great thanksgiving in our new niche hosting Terry’s sister and her son from San Diego and a local friend, Dale Clayton.  But that meant that Katherine could not commandeer our abode for Thanksgiving with her tribe of 15-20 as she had for the last several years.  They had to move their celebration to cabins half-way up Stevens Pass and nearly get washed out when the creek rose from heavy rain.

Jan retired from teaching years ago and last year Terry finally consented to retire so we could move to the west coast niche, but he still enjoys the work he was doing.  This year the opportunity came along to do work for the same group in the US Army that some of his Exelis work had been for, but through a different contractor, working only part-time and working from home.  So he set up his own contracting company (TAndersoft LLC) and subcontracts the software engineering work.  He works about half time but with very flexible hours and days, with an occasional trip to Maryland and still works on communications software for Army radios.

Terry started writing this episode by flashlight during the first lengthy loss of electric power since we’ve moved here, but the electricity is back on so the rest can be typed on the computer (always safer – even though the species’ writing has improved over paint and scratching on cave walls, Terry still has trouble deciphering his pen scratches on flattened fiber).  Others residing near our niche told us that we should expect power losses such as this and after living through seven days without power after Hurricane Sandy in NJ, we purchased a generator for Whidbey.  The power went off about 10 PM after an evening of winds 30-40 mph with gusts to 60, but came back on this morning about 8 AM.  Facebook postings claim that 237,000 customers of Puget Sound Energy lost power and 53,000 were still without power at 7 AM.  After Sandy, ten hours doesn’t seem too bad, especially when it only goes down to 45 degrees outside, 25 degrees higher than NJ after Sandy.  It was so late that we just went to bed without firing up the generator and Terry was just waiting for more daylight before lighting it up the old portable hearth when the power came back on.  Our primary heat is electric (hey, our multilevel cave is modern), but we have a propane fireplace and even without the fan it kept the entire main floor within 2 degrees of the set temperature.  Even downstairs, with no other heat only went down to about 64 degrees.  After Sandy our NJ house was down to about 50 heated only by candles.

-- Terry

And now for Jan’s two cents

(actually, worth a lot more than two cents)

When organisms get transplanted…in this case us… thriving becomes a matter of whether or not the new environment is supportive or harsh.  In our case adapting has been easy as conditions here are conducive for thriving.  We traded living in NJ, the most densely populated state, in the middle of the New York City urban/suburban sprawl, to being perched on a hillside overlooking Dugualla Bay.  Even though we have homes on either side of us, we have a 180 degree view extending over 50 miles that includes a fantastic view of Mt. Baker, including the US Cascade and Canadian Coastal Mts.  Whidbey Island supports a combination of coastal landscape, woodland and farmland, so we feel much more connected to the land here and enjoy the abundance of farmer’s markets on the island.

We no longer have to shovel snow in freezing conditions as most of the winter temps remain warm enough to eliminate that activity.  Once in a while it might snow, but it rarely remains longer than a blink of an eye.  And once we finish uprooting unwanted growth in our landscaping, we can begin enjoying the blooms that thrive here without being baked to a crisp by unrelenting summer heat.

Being here a complete year has allowed us to observe the changes that the seasons elicit in our surroundings.  We have noticed that the Bald Eagles and Osprey have organized a time-share arrangement on the navigation tower in the bay in front of our house.  Osprey arrive in early spring, raise their young and leave in late September.  As soon as they vacate, the eagles arrive daily, becoming our weather vane.  During calm days, the eagles perch upright facing any direction.  On windy days they sit horizontally facing into the wind.  We have also enjoyed the snow geese and swan migrations through the Skagit Valley as they leave and return according to their seasonal clocks.  Water fowl populations change with time and the tides, providing us with daily opportunities to use our spotting scope to view them up close.  And, in the distance, Seal Island gets covered with cormorants or basking seals according to their internal rhythms.

Autumn comes here so slowly and late that one has to look very closely to spot the deciduous color changes in mid to late November.  Most leaves were still clinging to branches and bushes until strong December winds cleared them out.  None of the blazing yellows, oranges and reds that invigorated us every fall in NJ.  Our transition into winter here is far more subtle.

We have also experienced a difference in the friendliness of the natives.  When shopping in NJ we became accustomed to a brisk, non-interactive exchange with clerks and cashiers.  Individuals not from NJ would remark on the rudeness of service.  Here we’ve noticed that long conversations about the weather and other social niceties can take place at the register while several people wait very (too?) patiently in line.  (Perhaps one could argue that unnecessary conversation that delays service to others is another form of rudeness? If so, no one here seems to notice that it is.)  Traffic patterns here can also be overly polite.  This “you go-no you go” back and forth with a car that obviously should have the right-of-way is still confusing to us and serves nothing but to delay both cars from moving forward. 

However, that inconvenience in check-out lines and driving politesse has been more than offset by the willingness of people here to go out of their way to be of service.  We continue to be pleasantly surprised at the kind of workmanship we have experienced on our many home-improvement projects to date. 

And so, as we extend our roots here in a new place, we wish you and your family the best conditions for thriving another year. 

-- Jan


We wish all of our friends a Happy Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, New Year’s, or other Holiday of your choice and another year of happy evolving.

Terry & Jan
December, 2014